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“Organic” has become quite the buzzword in the last few years. Most people have some idea that organic things are supposed to be better for the body or the earth, but few understand what that really means. When it comes to lawn care, many providers claim to offer organic products or services. What, exactly, are they trying to sell?
Here’s an overview of what constitutes organic lawn care as well as a quick look at some wide-spread lawn care providers and the organic products they offer. As you might imagine, not all companies provide the same quality of services, and they don’t all charge the same rates.
But don’t worry about sifting through a sea of lawn care providers. Gardening Know How has done the legwork for you. We’ve reviewed the in’s and out’s of organic lawn care to provide you with the best information. After reading this article, you’ll leave with a better understanding of what it means to care for your lawn organically.
What Is Organic Lawn Care?
If you’ve done any research into organic foods, you’ll notice that there is no official legal definition that must be met in order to call something “organic.” But that’s not to say the term is meaningless. Lawn care is usually called organic when it makes use of natural fertilizers, pesticides, and soil amendments instead of synthetic chemicals.
That’s only a narrow view of organic landscaping, though. Rutgers University is at the forefront of the organic land care movement. The university defines this practice as “a holistic approach to landscaping that restores and enhances biological cycles involving soil microorganisms, plants, and animals.” This can mean encouraging biodiversity over monoculture and maximizing efficiency in water or other resource use. To break it down: organic land care refers to treating a plot of land as a whole living organism rather than just a collection of pretty plants.
What this often means for your lawn is focusing on soil health, preserving natural resources, and avoiding synthetic additives. Regular landscaping, on the other hand, might add or remove whatever is necessary in order to grow whatever ornamental plants the homeowner wants, however they affect the land. Organic lawn care works with what’s already there, returning grass clippings to the soil and using plants that work well in the local climate.
Of course, this includes the most recognizable facet of organic lawn care: avoiding synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. While these chemicals may help certain types of plants grow, they can harm other plants as well as wildlife, pets, and even people if the substances get into the water supply. The New York Audubon Society estimates that Americans use a total 70 million pounds of pesticides a year just on lawns.
People who choose organic lawn care want to do their part to reduce this amount while also growing a beautiful, healthy lawn. That might mean tolerating some types of weeds that are good for the soil or forgoing certain types of plants that would require excessive water use. But it can be satisfying in its own right, knowing that you created your lawn as an outgrowth of the natural world rather than attempting to wrestle it into a manufactured landscape.
What Organic Lawn Care Services Are Available?
Organic services available from professional lawn services usually fall into three categories: soil care/fertilizer, weed control, and pest control.
Organic Soil Care
Soil health is a primary tenet of organic land care, and a lawn care company might use any of several methods to ensure that your soil is healthy and fertile. Organic fertilizers like corn gluten and bone meal usually derive from composted plant matter and/or animal waste. They’re used to restore nutrients to the soil. Some lawn care companies mix their own blends of organic fertilizer.
Minerals are also useful as soil additives. Peat, one of the most-used natural fertilizers, aerates soil and helps it retain water. Other minerals adjust the pH, or acidity, of the soil.
In general, organic fertilizers have the natural advantage of releasing their nutrients slowly over time. Chemical fertilizers offer a burst of nutrients when applied, but their benefits fade quickly. Organic fertilizers take longer to work, but they also last longer.
Organic Weed Control
Done organically, weed control usually involves applying natural herbicides to kill unwanted weeds. Most organic herbicides are non-selective, which means they’ll kill whatever plant they cover, so they must be carefully applied to weeds only. This makes them time-consuming to use, so hiring a lawn care company to apply them for you can be a great idea.
However, organic weed control involves much more than just killing plants you don’t want. There are also cultural or mechanical methods. Simply pulling weeds is a mechanical method of organic weed control, and “flame weeders” — basically, hand-held propane torches — are gaining popularity. Cultural methods involve planting competitive species that will, by nature, keep weeds away.
Many lawn care companies will employ a combination of these methods, sometimes referred to as integrated weed control.
Organic Pest Control
As with weed control, organic pest control can involve substances used to directly kill pests or other methods that drive pests away. Organic pesticides repel or kill insects before they have the chance to do too much damage to your lawn. Insecticidal soaps kill bugs when sprayed directly on them, and oil sprays smother eggs and spores. As with organic weed killers, though, these pesticides don’t distinguish between helpful and harmful insects, so they must be used carefully.
Other pest control methods may include physically covering certain plants at the times when they’re most vulnerable or introducing species that will eat or otherwise destroy harmful pests. For example, beneficial nematodes can both break down compost into nutrients and devour weevils, chinch bugs, white grubs, and other insects.
If this seems like a lot to take in, remember, a professional lawn care company can tackle this for you. While most services from lawn care companies near you might not be organic, some providers offer a broad range of plans and services.
Why Professional Services May Be Right for You
There are plenty of DIY options for organic lawn care, but be prepared to exercise caution — as we noted, many organic herbicides and pesticides are non-selective, so if you don’t apply them in the right ways, you could end up inadvertently harming your lawn.
Also, some organic methods aren’t as user-friendly as traditional synthetic products, and they may require some background knowledge to use correctly. If you’ve never used organic methods or products before, don’t be afraid to ask for help from professionals who are trained to apply them.
For now, organic lawn care methods are not the default — you have to specifically request them. Many smaller, local lawn care companies may not receive a lot of requests for organic methods, so they may not have the right substances on hand to treat your lawn without the use of synthetic chemicals.
On the other hand, many lawn care companies that service dozens and dozens of states do have the resources to stock and train their technicians in organic lawn care techniques. You’ll still need to request them, but many of these companies have at least one plan or service for organic gardeners.
Our Top Recommended Provider: TruGreen
Sometimes the best choice is to leave it to the professionals. We ultimately recommend TruGreen for organic lawn care services.
TruGreen Plans & Services for Organic/Natural Lawn Care
With 50 years in business, TruGreen is a trusted lawn care provider that services 48 states, all except Hawaii and Alaska.The company offers a number of comprehensive lawn care packages that cover everything from soil analysis to pest control. Their TruNatural lawn care plan uses natural, slow-release fertilizer to thicken your lawn in a way that will crowd out weeds. However, if you do notice substantial weed growth, you can request TruGreen technicians to selectively apply small amounts of traditional herbicides to these weeds.
The TruNatural plan gives you the benefits of their other packages, plus the peace of mind of knowing that you’re minimizing your total environmental impact. Their products are even pet-safe once they’re dry. Here’s what comes with this TruGreen package.
|Premier Green||TruGreen’s research-based lawn care program uses scientifically proven methods to improve the health and appearance of your lawn.|
|TruExpert-Certified Specialists||TruGreen’s certified technicians help develop a plan that’s tailored to your lawn.|
|Healthy Lawn Analysis||A certified specialist will check the soil, climate, and other environmental conditions to determine what your lawn needs.|
|Healthy Lawn Guarantee||If you don’t love how your lawn looks after treatment, TruGreen will make any adjustments.|
|Weed Control||TruGreen’s organic methods will attempt to prevent weeds from growing and eliminate existing weeds at your request.|
|Fertilization||TruGreen will apply all-natural fertilizer at key points during the growing season to get your lawn looking its best.|
TruGreen has locations in 48 states, making them available nearly nationwide. Additionally, they have a substantial online presence, making them easy to contact.
DIY Organic Lawn Care Tips
Even if you hire a professional service, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of the principles of organic lawn care. Many nationwide services — including TruGreen and Weed Man — do not provide mowing or yard clean-up, and you’ll need to water more often than their technicians visit. Here are a few DIY tips to get you started down the path to organic lawn care.
Mow Regularly with a Sharp Blade
Mowing is an important step in lawn maintenance no matter what products you use, but it’s particularly important for organic lawn care. Since your goal is to prevent diseases and pests from gaining a foothold in the first place, it’s important to make sure each blade of grass is as healthy as it can be. This starts with the sharpness of your mower blades.
A dull blade can bruise and twist the grass as it cuts, leaving each blade of grass damaged and prone to attracting bacteria, viruses, fungi, and pests. Sharp blades make small, neat cuts, leaving healthier and better-looking grass behind. Healthier grass means less need for pesticides and other chemicals.
Don’t Bag Your Clippings
Lawn trimmings are essentially free compost, so refrain from treating them like trash and sending them to the landfill. If you mow regularly, grass clippings will be shorter and smaller, allowing them to more easily make their way back down between the living blades of grass and into the soil where they can decompose and redeposit their nutrients in the ground. Some gardeners call this “grasscycling.”
Water Infrequently but Deeply
Believe it or not, making your grass work a little harder to get water can actually make it more tolerant of drought. Infrequent watering forces the grass roots to grow down deeper in search of water, so don’t turn the sprinklers on until the grass starts looking a little dull and limp. When you do water, do it in two stages: the first is a short burst to get the soil wet. When the soil is bone-dry, water can simply run off the surface, so let a little bit soak in for about an hour before hitting the lawn with a full inch of water for a deeper, more thorough saturation.
Water Early in the Morning
If you’re into organic lawn maintenance, you’re probably interested in conserving natural resources in general. One easy way to conserve water is to only water your lawn early in the morning, before the heat of the day sets in. In heat, plants close up their pores to conserve their own water, so they’re also less able to take water in. Watering in the cool parts of the day ensures they can take in as much as they need while also minimizing evaporation.
Check Your Species of Grass
Warm season grasses like Bermuda grass, Bahia grass, and St. Augustine grass grow best in ambient temperatures of 80-95°F. Cool season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, and fescue grow best in temperatures of 60-75°F. Of course, many people live in a transition zone in the middle of the country, from southern California to Virginia, where temperatures vary too widely to grow the same type of grass all year round.
If you live in the transition zone, you may need to seed with a warm season grass in the spring and then begin phasing in a cool season grass as autumn approaches. No amount of fertilizer, organic or synthetic, will keep Kentucky bluegrass green and lush when the temperature’s pushing 95°F.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re still not sure whether organic is the way to go, take a look at these answers to some common questions homeowners have.
Is organic lawn care better?
In order to answer this question, you need to ask yourself the following one: better for whom? If you must have a picture-perfect lawn with nary a weed or pest in sight, but you have no time to spend on maintenance, then no, organic gardening is probably not better for you. But if your goal is to have a resilient, hardy lawn with minimal impact on the environment, then organic lawn care is the right choice.
Take a look at some of the pros and cons of organic lawn care when compared to conventional methods.
|Fewer harmful chemicals around your family and your pets|
Preserved natural ecosystem, including helpful microbes and organic matter for healthy soil
Difficult to damage your lawn by overapplying organic products
No chance of releasing synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers into the natural environment
|Results of organic treatments aren’t immediate|
More time and effort is required for mowing, watering, fertilizing, etc.
There will be some weeds
Pest control is more difficult
Organic products can be more expensive
Ultimately, the choice is yours. Take some time to think about what you value most, and consider talking to some lawn care professionals about your options.
How do I take care of my lawn organically?
We’ve already touched on some of the most important methods when it comes to watering and mowing. If you decide not to use a professional lawn service, switching to an organic fertilizer is an easy move. You won’t see results as quickly as you would with a synthetic product, but the results will last longer and result in healthier soil.
You can also take the time to get rid of any lawn thatch, which is a build-up of old, dead grass, and other organic matter that causes a spongy texture to the lawn. Not all grass species will produce thatch, and if the soil is full of healthy microbes, thatch will generally decompose on its own. However, if you’re still making the switch to organic methods, it’s a good idea to dethatch your lawn from time to time.
Try raking the grass with an ordinary garden rake. If the thatch is too thick for that, consider buying a specially made thatching rake or renting a mechanical dethatcher. Once the thatch is gone, it should be easier for the grass to absorb organic fertilizer.
How do I keep my grass green naturally?
If you follow all of the above tips — mowing regularly, watering infrequently and deeply, grasscycling, and more — your lawn should stay a healthy green color without the need for synthetic chemical fertilizers. If you’re still having problems keeping your lawn looking good, consider consulting with a professional lawn care company. They can offer the following services to spruce up your lawn naturally.
- Aerating— Soil can become compacted over time, so loosening it and exposing it to air can help create a better soil structure for improved nutrient uptake.
- Overseeding— If there’s just not enough grass to grow, the application of extra grass seed can help fill in bare patches.
- Top dressing—This nutrient-rich soil is applied over existing grass and allowed to filter down to the plants’ roots. Many organic varieties are available.
- Soil test and disease treatment— If brown or white patches persist, this might be a sign of disease. Consult with a professional for methods to identify and treat the problem without the use of harsh chemicals.
If you do need a professional, we recommend TruGreen for your organic lawn care needs.